Friday, November 04, 2011

“Theatrical Thoughts”

c. 2011 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Readers of this column have heard many stories about my long-term friendship with Cleveland music icon Dennis Chandler.

We met while I was an editor for another newspaper, in Ashtabula County. Chandler had been scheduled to play at a local event, which was much like our beloved Maple Festival. I called to discuss his upcoming appearance, and a conversation about Rock & Roll history ensued.

It was my first encounter with the “Edu-tainer” – so dubbed by fans for his encyclopedic knowledge of the genre.

Over the years that followed, I wrote about our ongoing relationship. Chandler offered valuable insight into a surprising variety of subjects. He held strong opinions about pop culture, musical instruments, personal wellness, and the entertainment business. Eventually, he even provided advice on my career as a freelance writer.

I came to trust him as a teacher.

As summer drew to a close, he talked about a theatrical production that was in the works. With the skill of a composer, he had penned 22 songs for a musical play. Now, auditions were being held.

I tingled with excitement. The anticipation of a developing ‘good story’ was irresistible.

Chandler described the play as a family tale involving three generations. When the patriarch suffers a heart attack, everyone is brought together. Time, for that moment, stands still. And the whole is made greater by being tested.

It was the kind of happening that occurred in my own family, when my father battled cancer in the 1990’s.

Larry Brenner’s compelling story came to life at Tallmadge High School. As the curtain swept aside, I was immediately struck with the fact that his work comprised true ‘family’ entertainment in the classic sense. A performance for those of any age, to be enjoyed together.

With a grin, I remembered watching Ed Sullivan with my grandmother, parents, and siblings. It promised to be that kind of shared experience.


Joseph Goldberg is in a post-surgical coma. What unfolds around him are layers of familial drama that resonate with everyone. Wife Sarah frets while tending to her brood with maternal care. Son Norman remembers his youthful desire to be a writer, while grappling with marriage woes. Daughter Sandra hears the echoes of an unfulfilled love. Grandsons Stephen and Michael trade playground jabs while worrying about their elder.

Each songful reflection carries a good dose of Rock & Roll energy that keeps the audience greatly entertained, and focused.

Mysterious ‘Men in Black’ who wait outside the hospital add a sense of puzzlement and foreboding. Sarah paces back and forth, chattering and wondering, and waiting.
Finally, the stage clears with Joseph’s patient alarm sounding a note of dread.

What comes next? Everyone is left to wonder, on their own.
Throughout the intermission, I pondered Brenner’s story. Would the father survive and receive loving praise from his family? Or slip away into the afterlife?


We are returned to the hospital room. It is empty except for the ailing father, still and silent, in his bed.

Then, Brenner’s narrative takes an unexpected turn. Joseph sits up, and exclaims with joy about finally being alone!

There is much applause in the auditorium. I realize that I have been holding my breath.

From the edge of his bed, the old man has a colorful conversation with God. He admits to using the situation to ‘listen’ as his family works out their troubles.
It is a dramatic moment that leaves everyone breathless. In Act One, we were crying with concern. Now, our eyes are wet again, but from laughter.

At that point, we learn that the dark-suited men are FBI agents. Joseph Goldberg has operated a betting operation, to augment his meager income as a custodian. Now, he has become an informant to help snare organized criminals who have moved in on his shady business.

Sarah scolds her husband, upon finding him awake. Confusion and chatter fill the room. Yet the family is emotionally reunited in a way never possible before.

With confidence, Joseph proclaims from his bed: “Look at what I accomplished, by listening!”

The cast itself was delightful. Jeffrey D. Bachtel brought the character of Joseph alive with a sense of realism and humor that made the audience believe in his basic goodness and humanity. As Sarah, Julianne Protich effused an irresistible mood of maternal love. Mariah Nicole Queer played Sandra with the skill one would expect of a true Broadway actress. Tyler Mason brought us Doctor Tony as a humble, but lonely spirit. And Gordon Wall delivered the character of Norman with genuine vulnerability and soul searching.

Everything was tied together with a Rock & Roll ribbon provided by Dennis Chandler’s musical score. His compositions evoked the exuberance of classic, good-time music as it was in yonder days.

I left the Tallmadge High School auditorium with a sense that greater things were ahead for Brenner’s play. And, indeed, for those that helped bring it to life.

Just We Two (A Musical)
“For those who have laughed and cried with others and alone…”
Book and Lyrics by: Larry Brenner
Music by: Dennis Chandler
Choreographer: Danielle Shook
Directed by: Frank Chaff

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